The Posture Of Zazen

In this video John discusses the importance of the sitting posture and the body during Zazen.
It’s easy to get caught in the idea that meditation is something that is primarily going on in the head, with the goal being the controlling of thoughts, the calming the mind and the attainment of something, and the body being of little importance.
 John suggests looking at meditation in a different way, not primarily through the lens of consciousness but as a dynamic interplay between the alive and whole body, the dynamic breath, and wide awareness. Within that somewhere is the mind, but it’s no longer of prime importance. We put our body in the correct position and all of us is enlivened,  undetermined  by our mind.

Video adapted from kusen no. 308, given on

Dropping off body and mind

Zen Master Dogen described zazen as ‘dropping off body and mind’. The plain implication is that both are dropped off at the same time. John explains how we can also see this in a sequential way.

First, by dropping the mind into the body, which we can only do to the extent that the body is already dynamic, alive and joyful. This is why we place such an emphasis on the posture: if our posture is right, the body is naturally expressing itself, it isn’t just “my body”. It’s no longer the subordinate, owned part of the mind/body split.

And once we’ve done that, we can drop off the body. That is, we let go of a sharp distinction between this body and the greater body of all being. And that’s easier to do if mind has already been “dropped off”, because the person/world split depends on the primary mind/body split. If that primary split drops off, it’s obvious within our actual experience: there isn’t a clear boundary between person and world. We no longer wither behind the wall of the self.

Adapted from Kusen given on 19th September 2020

The Wise Doctor

In this video John discusses a parable in chapter three of the Nirvana sutra describing Buddhist teachings as medicine, and the Buddha as being like a skilful doctor. John explains liberation not as an intellectual grasping or orienting of the believer around some kind of ultimate ‘truth’, but a compassionate strategy aimed at relieving suffering which orients itself around the particular ailments of the ‘patient’.   

Kusen given on 14th Septemer 2020


The Unpictured Body

In this video John explains how a more holistic and body focused approach to the body in zazen can enliven practice and enable us to experience the world in a more non-dual way. 
Awareness of sensations in our head: of air in our nostrils, tensions in our jaw etc tend to be more readily accessible, and can also help to break the familiar identification of the head with the mind. This awareness can seep downwards and outwards, helping to animate the whole body. 
Often the breath is treated as separate from the body but focusing on the physical and energetic movement of breathing, and its non separation from the alive body can profoundly heal the wounds of duality.
Good posture also helps joyful sitting by uncompressing the torso and stretching the spine. This creates a dynamic relationship with the ground: the body’s weight drops while the ground pushes up, part of a dynamic relationship which the body can have with both heaven and earth.
These dynamic  relationships break down the boundaries between our body and the world.

Zazen is not a practice of the self. It is the effort of all beings expressed through this person. The body, properly experienced, is our Dharma Gate to equanimity and joy.

Adapted from Kusen given on 5th September 2020

Blue Cliff Record Case 43

A monk asked Master Tozan, ‘When heat and cold come, how can we avoid them’?
Tozan responded, ‘why don’t you go to the place where there is no heat and no cold’?
The monk asked, how do I get to that place’? Tozan replied, ‘When it is hot, heat kills the monk, when it is cold, cold kills the monk
In this video, John explains this Koan, and the message of non duality that Master Tozan was getting at with his apparently curious statement.

Blue Cliff Record Case 43: 29th August 2020


Shinji Shobogenzo, Book 2, Case 91

In this video John discusses this metaphor from Master Sekito about a familiar trope of Buddhism:

“The wide sky does not hinder the flying white clouds.”

The metaphor of sky and clouds is common in Zen. The original meaning 7th century meaning was fairly specific: just as the sun may be temporarily obscured by clouds yet we know it’s always there,  likewise, although our mind may be in turmoil, we can sit in confident faith in our intrinsic Buddha Nature. This initially simple formulation was gradually woven into a complex of interrelated ideas.

Master Sekito’s apparently simple repetition of the image has a lot packed into it and John explains how Sekito urges us not to discard the life flooding through us for a false ideal of quietism.

Adapted from Kusen given on 25th August 2020


Kinhin 経行

“The Zen masters say it is like the tiger slipping into the forest or the dragon sliding into the sea”

Taisen Deshimaru

Stand, with the spine upright but flexible, the back of the neck straight, your head balanced and weightless, the shoulders without tension and your chest open. The tip of your tongue rests gently on your hard palate, just behind your teeth. Be aware of your body being in a dynamic relationship with earth and space and sky. Be aware of your weight dropping down and pushing the earth, and a corresponding upward push from the earth, uncompressing the spine and torso, travelling up the spine and out through the top of the head at the fontanelle (crown chakra). Don’t consciously stretch the back of your neck or intentionally tuck your chin in.

Make a soft fist of the left hand, the thumb inside the fingers, placing it with the lower knuckle of your thumb resting against the sternum and your right hand, palm down, on top of the left. This position of the hands is called isshu 揖手.

Let your gaze be soft and rest on the ground a few yards ahead. Leave space between your elbow and your torso. Lift your elbows so that your forearms are horizontal. Don’t have tension in the arms, so don’t strain your arms to keep horizontal, if this is uncomfortable let your elbows drop. Allow the back to relax and widen.

Breathe in fully and step forward with the right foot, about half the length of the foot, landing first on your heel then rolling the weight gradually forward towards the ball of your foot, feeling a strong connection between the ground and your foot. As you place the heel on the ground, start to breathe out, and in the course of that outbreath, roll the weight from the back of the right foot to the front, so that almost all your weight is on the front of the right foot. All of the back foot remains on the ground, stretching the back leg. Pay attention to the soles of the feet throughout. There is a continual dance and movement of weight: front to back, side to side.

At the end of the outbreath, your weight is on the front of the right foot, largely on your big and second toe and the area immediately below that. You are rolling over and activating an energy point on the sole of the foot, bubbling spring, which is slightly below the junction of the big toe and the second toe. To enhance this, it is helpful to slightly splay your toes as you are bringing your weight forward. At the end of the outbreath, roll the right foot slightly back so you are on this point as you breathe in. The leg is slightly bent.

Breathe in from the bubbling spring point, and allow the energy of that in breath to travel up the leg to the base chakra at the perineal area, then up the back to the occipital joint ( the jade pillow area) then in a forward curve through the centre of the brain, to the third eye. At that point, start to breathe out, bring the breath back down the front of the torso, back to the base chakra, then back to bubbling spring and back down into the earth.

As you breathe in, the front leg slightly straightens, but doesn’t lock. The body should be soft, enlivened and responsive throughout. In particular, keep the torso soft and don’t stick the chest out. Keep the hands soft. They are next to the heart for a reason.

At the end of the inbreath, step forward with the back foot and repeat the process.

Move at the pace of your breath, but try to inhale and exhale slowly and fully.

When the bell rings, rotate your hands into shashu 叉手 position so your knuckles are pointing forward, bow forward from the waist and return to your place. Gassho to your zafu and sit in zazen posture, alternate leg on top if you are sitting in a cross legged posture.


Buddhist Language

In this video John discusses this quote by Pai Chang: “All verbal teachings are just like cures for diseases, because the diseases are not the same, the medicines are also not the same, that is why it is said that there is Buddha, and sometimes that there is no Buddha. True words cure sickness, if the cure manages to bring about healing then all are true words, if they cannot cure sickness they are false words. True words are false words, insofar as they bring about views, false words are true words, insofar as they cut off delusion, because the diseases are unreal, there are only unreal medicines to cure them.”

Adapted from Kusen given on 21st August 2020


Start of New Study Group 7/10/20

We will be starting a new study group on Wednesday 7 October, 5.30-7.00pm UK time.It will meet fortnightly. We will be covering Nagarjuna and early Mahayana. We will study some chapters of Nagarjuna’s main work, the MMK and will also study The Heart Sutra, The Diamond Sutra and the Vimalakirti Sutra.

If you are interested, please email us at


Pai-Chang’s Three levels of Zazen

Pai-chang, who lived during Tang Dynasty China, and was a successor of Master Mazu (Baso), said that there were three levels of Zazen.
The first level, which he equated with Theravadan practice, is non-attachment.
The second level, which he calls ‘the trap of Bodhisattvas’, is when we are no longer attached to non-attachment, but retain a sense of ourselves.
The third level is when the residual sense of self is dropped off, leaving just this is-ness.

In this video John examines this  to clarify the meaning as not pointing to a progressive system which we go through, aiming to attain and remain at the ‘highest’ level, but that each level is  more like a particular space within this vast hall of practice, and  we move freely between these spaces within our actual sitting.

Adapted from Kusen No. 303 given on